Before being fired, Donnelly was known as one of the harder to please critics on the once very popular movie news site. He compared his afternoon lost to Les Miserables as being "in line with one of those picking-out -wallpaper-all-afternoon deals." In his dismissal of the new Evil Dead remake, he asked, "Couldn't the world do without a few extra morons?"
It's not as though Donnelly had no idea that his style was clashing with the tone of AICN, a site that has been accused by its own readers and others in the industry of trading positive coverage of films for access to productions and casts. Donnelly explains, "I had a conversation with Harry months ago where he'd talked sort of about my tone in stories. I took it under advisement and tried to take things from a more optimistic perspective. But when it comes down to reviews, I don't see how you can change that you're going to like some things and dislike some things. The point is to be honest about what you're seeing and to start a discussion."
Though Donnelly could be merciless with the films he didn't like, he also took pains to champion films he felt were worthy of his readers' attention. And he was a fixture in the South Florida film fan community, hosting preview screenings in South Florida and facilitating conversations on a local level, in addition to the writing he did for the site.
"You can point out the positives of a bad film or the negatives of a good film," he says. "But you're still rooting for good films. If I have to watch something for two hours, why do I want it to be shit?"
But in an email, AICN Chicago Editor Steve Prokopy says Donnelly wasn't fired for negative reviews; he was fired for poor writing. "We have another writer who tends to go negative a lot, but he's also a fantastic writer and actually substantiates his negative criticism," he writes. "No, Billy was fired because he doesn't know anything about movies made before 1990. His lack of film knowledge is legendary, and the number of times one of the other writers at Ain't It Cool News has contacted him about a very basic film fact that he got wrong in a news item or review was something that lowered the quality of the site in general. And while his often negative opinion didn't really bother me, he never really backed it up with examples of why he didn't like something, which is kind of what being a critic is about. You can't just say Yay or Nay, you have to explain why you felt that way with some degree of intelligence and knowledge that Billy simply didn't have."
Prokopy also says Donnelly was rumored to hoard screening passes, hounded film studios for free swag, and was "a terrible interviewer." According to Prokopy, the last straw was a direct violation of an order from Knowles: "Harry asked him to take a break for a few days, and not long after Billy posted another piece, violated Harry's request, so Harry fired him on Facebook."
Now that he is on his own, Donnelly is starting a new site called ThisIsInfamous.com, intended to be a community space devoted to geekdom.
"If there's one thing you've taken away from ... interactions with me, it's my brutal honesty when it comes to one of the things I love most - movies. Recently, that straight-forward and opinionated approach worked against me, but this is the chance to turn a negative into a very big positive," Donnelly explains at the project's Indiegogo fundraising page.
Eventually, ThisIsInfamous.com will include a radio network and cover a broader range of topics than AICN.
"We're looking to be more encompassing," Donnelly says. "To fit a broader sense of this geek community. Whether it's movies, television, comic books, or even professional wrestling. We're their voice and we're trying to give them a voice."